Merry Christmas! As we approach Christmas Day, we feel our hearts inclined towards the Savior, and we are filled with introspection. We keep asking ourselves, “What was Jesus trying to teach us through His birth?” and we are struck with the thought of Jesus’ condescension. The Jesus who created this world, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and who brought fire from heaven, went down, down, down, smaller and smaller, until he became a tiny embryo, then a fetus and then a helpless baby who could not swallow solid food or control his bladder, totally dependent on his teenaged peasant mother. In other Christian faith traditions, this act is known as the “incarnation.” We don’t use this word very much in our meetings because it carries with it connotations of the early creeds describing the trinity. Because of the restoration, we know that when Jesus cried in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), he was truly talking to His Father, not Himself. When Jesus said, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done,” (Luke 22:42), he was not talking to himself. When Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Ghost could not be with them as long as He was there, He was not being mysterious. So we do not normally use the word “incarnation” to describe Jesus’ mortal ministry. This is probably fine, but in our zeal to emphasize the father/son relationship, we might be somewhat overlooking the importance of what happened. The idea that God would become a baby and live a mortal life filled the ancient prophets with wonder. For people like Isaiah and Nephi, it was almost too much to get their minds around.
One of the things that struck ancient and modern prophets so forcibly is that when Jesus came to earth, he was not trying to avoid suffering and pain like we do. In fact, experiencing pain and suffering was one of the primary reasons He came. Of course, He came to give us a perfect example, but there was something even deeper at play. Through his life and ministry, Christ created an intimacy with us that transcends the theoretical. He suffered with us and for us. Isaiah taught: “In all their afflictions, he was afflicted.” (Isaiah 63:9). Alma taught: “…and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.” (Alma 7: 12-13). In these fascinating verses, Alma seems to be saying that Jesus understood suffering in His head when He was presiding in the pre-mortal heavens, but He learned about suffering in a different way when He actually went through it, when He actually experienced every kind of suffering. The Spirit already knew, but Jesus suffered in the flesh so that He would know according to the flesh.
Because of the incarnation, Jesus truly understands us. He has been there. He is a God who weeps when we suffer, who truly comprehends and even feels our pain, and He truly knows how to help. Sometimes, He knows when to do nothing because that is what we need. Sometimes, He knows to give us increased capacity to carry because that is what we need, and sometimes, He relieves our burdens because that is what we need. He truly has been there and knows, according to the flesh. That is one reason we celebrate. God was not just with us in the sense that He was present on the earth, He was really with us through all our successes, failures, disappointments, sicknesses, sins, pains, and joys. We thank Jesus for all He did and for who He is.
We pray that through this Christmas season and for the rest of our lives, we may deepen our understanding and appreciation of Christ and in so doing, become more devoted followers.
President and Sister Packard